Summer Reading Lecture Focuses on How We’re Connected

9/09/2015
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Members of the Class of 2019 got Connected this summer, well before the start of classes.

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In early August, Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences Thalia Wheatley asked first-year and transfer students to read the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler.

Each year, a Dartmouth professor assigns a book for new students to read and delivers a “Shared Academic Experience” lecture as part of new student orientation. Wheatley says she chose the book because it discusses the powerful influence of social networks in a way that is simultaneously fun, compelling, and scholarly.

Wheatley has invited one of the book’s authors, Nicholas Christakis, to join her in delivering the lecture on Sept. 13, the Sunday before classes begin. Christakis is a sociologist and physician who directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University. 

“My hope is that by reading this book, new students will be more informed about how the links between us shape our thoughts, experiences, and actions,” Wheatley says.

In a letter to incoming students announcing the lecture, Wheatley wrote, “If your beliefs and actions influence distant others, should that change what you do? Conversely, if your social network influences you more than you think, should you think more carefully about who is in your network? College is a time of forging new and long-lasting networks.”

The program’s legacy dates back more than 50 years, to a time when new students received a recommended reading list of “foundational texts.” In its current form, the summer reading program goes back to at least 2002, when Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was the book and the lecturer was Professor Emeritus Ronald Green of the religion department.

Since 2008, the Sphinx Foundation at Dartmouth has covered the purchase of the books and the cost of mailing. Each book includes a bookplate with a picture of the Sphinx Tomb, the society’s founding date of 1886, and the inscription “This book is a gift from the members of Sphinx in appreciation for all that Dartmouth College has given to us.”

New student orientation began Sept. 9; Wheatley’s lecture will take place on Sept. 13.